Children of the Poisoned River. (http://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/children-of-the-poisoned-river-mercury-poisoning-grassy-narrows-first-nation/) - Jody Porter
It's a half-century and twelve hundred kilometres away from where I'm sitting today. Grassy Narrows, Ontario. 1967-69. We lived in a ten by forty mobile home and taught adult education classes in the community hall which we'd divided into a literacy and an advanced classroom. Twenty-five to thirty men would show up in the morning and we'd do school: Science, Math, English, History.
We didn't know it until a few years later, but our two years in Grassy Narrows Reserve coincided with the arrival there of severe mercury contamination from the Dryden Pulp and Paper Company. The Wabigoon River and connected lakes still look clean, almost pristine, but mercury lodges in the cells of its fish, transfers to people who eat the fish, is passed on to a next generation in the placenta of mothers. Invisible mercury has been known for a long time to play havoc with the human nervous system, it's symptoms often resembling Parkinson's or Huntington's Chorea, producing developmental deficiencies and/or deformity in infants and at the extreme: Minamata disease, it's deadly, worst manifestation.
My family and I carry in our bodies a low level of mercury poisoning from our two years there.
Occasionally, when I read about the persistence of physical and mental health issues in Grassy Narrows resulting from the colonial past, the mercury poisoning and resource starvation, the names and faces flood back: Gabe Fobister, Andy Keewatin, the Necanapenaces, Ashopenaces, Loons, Hyacinths, Kokopenaces. Friends? We were outsiders paid by government to live in a fenced compound with water in the tap, an indoor flush toilet, diesel-powered electric service while they hauled water up from the lake in tubs on the hoods of battered cars, carried it up the hill in pails, heated overcrowded houses with wood, lighted them with kerosene.
The numbered treaties struck a bargain: the inhabitants of the land and waters gave us the access we settlers needed in order to build this rich European-styled country; in exchange, we gave them empty promises and the finger.
It's evident at every turn. The persistence of ignorance about our history, racial prejudice and discrimination in Canada make the prospect of reconciliation with our indigenous neighbours hard to imagine. Prime Minister Trudeau spent valuable time in his speech at the UN General Assembly recently decrying the sordid history of colonialism in Canada, promising that the future would be brighter than the past. Both in the media and on the street, the reactions included puzzlement, resentment, even derision. And some applause. The perception in the general population seems to be that European settlement constitutes the real indigenous Canada and that aboriginal peoples are the refugees, the immigrants. It's incredible, but the mentality is substantiated by the fact that Senator Beyak can urge our Indian population to trade in their status cards for citizenship . . . and be applauded by many, retain her position in the leadership institution of this country.
The prospects for a better Grassy Narrows' future are not good. Although there are knowledgeable, good people who understand what has to change in Canada, and why, they face an overwhelming culture of, “They're just a bunch of lazy bums manipulating for handouts. And what's more, who gives a damn?!”
All Canadians ought to put their pre-judgments aside long enough to read a heart wrenching article by Jody Porter at http://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/children-of-the-poisoned-river-mercury-poisoning-grassy-narrows-first-nation/.